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Monday, April 13, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Holy Books, Batman! -- It's A Comics Convention! -- Holy Books, Batman! -- It's A Comic Convention!

In brightest day In blackest night No evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil's might Beware my power - Green Lantern's Light!!

- The Green Lantern Code

Gather round, you faithful fans of Batman, of Spiderman, of the Silver Surfer, and, yes, even of the Punisher, and breathe in the musty aroma of genuine comic-book lore.

The year is 1940. A wiry young Martin Odell, fledgling comic-book artist in New York City, waits on a dusky subway platform. He is deep in thought. His superiors have asked him to come up with another "title" - another hero to add to their gaudy All Star Comics line-up.

Then he sees the subway worker down on the tracks with his lantern. The worker would wave a red lantern to an approaching train if there was a problem, and if everything was OK, he would wave . . . a green lantern.

Odell, now 76 years old, held court yesterday at the International Seattle Comic Convention, where more than 80 exhibitors offered comic books, fantasy trading cards, T-shirts and Star Trek trinkets.

Odell's Green Lantern - wielding his all-purpose Power Ring - debuted in All American Comics No. 16 in 1940 and quickly became the leading All-American character. A No. 16 in good condition recently brought $22,000 at a London show.

Odell answered many of the reverent who approached him with a similar refrain: "Thank you very much, but tell DC, will ya?" That reference to the giant comic-book company was his way of saying he'd like to return to the business sometime.

And this is a business, as became clear at the convention yesterday. More than 1,200 people paid $3 to attend what's known as the Center Con, said organizers Carl Waluconis, who teaches English literature at Seattle Central Community College, and Bill Wormstedt, a computer programmer.

Once inside, those in attendance could pay hundreds of dollars for books from the so-called Golden Age of comics, issued usually before World War II. A restored Superman No. 1 title had a price tag of $15,000.

Most people walking among the aisles were there not to plunk down the price of a new automobile but to fill out their collections of particular comic series.

Tim Raynor, local car salesman and father of two, seemed a perfectly honorable citizen, even if he has spent much of the past 3 1/2 years hunting for title Nos. 6 and 9 of the Hellblazer. He didn't find them at the Center Con.

Raynor wore a sinister-looking Sandman T-shirt and a watch whose face featured the image of Sandman's little sister, Death. He has collected all issues of the Sandman, described as "the Lord of the Realm of Sleep - he controls people's sleeps and dreams."

Raynor wandered the Con with his wife, Lynn, and their two children, Layla, 6, and Dylan, 3. "I never considered myself a comic-book person, but it seems they appeal to a much more mature audience now," Raynor said.

Perhaps more mature, but certainly also darker, more bloodthirsty, less innocent. The Legend of the the Arachknight (that's Spiderman for the uninitiated) has now been joined by comparatively vicious "heroes" such as the Punisher.

"It's pandering to the tastes of the audience of the 1990s, which is white male, aged 12 to 24," said Holly Forbis, a dealer at the Con who also operates the Games Plus store in Woodinville. "The characters are much meaner. It's a '90s street attitude."

And as if you needed more evidence that America was in decline, Marvel even published a "swimsuit edition."

In thongs and bikinis were featured the comelier members of Marvel's stable of crime-fighters, including Storm, Rogue, She-Hulk and Kitty Pride.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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